I was at a comic book store over the weekend where I saw two old board games from ages long ago-"The World of Micronauts" and "Voltron: Defender of the Universe". They brought tears to my eyes because they reminded me of how awesome my childhood was, full of toy robots and meaningful tie-in merchandise. Back then they didn't just slap a toy robot name brand on an existing game like Risk, Stratego or Monopoly as they do nowadays. Back when I was a kid board games were custom designed specifically for each franchise and everyone from GoBots to Robo Force to Transformers had one. Of course other properties like Smurfs and Muppet Babies had board games, too, but there were also instances of toy robots merchandising crossing over into areas Smurfs dare not tread. There was the Transformers Battlin' Robots game, which was a pretty good ripoff of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots that combined the classic brutal Rock 'em Sock 'em style boxing ring combat with the fun of Cybertronian civil war. You couldn't do that with Muppet Babies!
HEY HASBRO DO ME A FAVOR-DROP THE "TRANS" AND JUST CALL 'EM "FORMER ROBOTS"
Here we are 25 years later after the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s and all the classic robot lines are dead, save for the one surviving victor and a newer line in which the robots are a tacked on sideshow. I'm talking about what Hasbro passes off today as Transformers and Bandai's Power Rangers, which I count as one and a half toy robots lines since Power Rangers is less about robots and more about kids in color coordinated costumes dancing around like spastic ninja Teletubbbies. Transformers is getting increasingly watered down, too, with Hasbro devoting more and more attention to Transformers that don't transform.
From Weeble Wobbles to their RPM line of die cast cars with the robots molded on the bottom, it's getting trickier to figure out what it means to be a Transformer. There are more toys to choose from but they're increasingly removed from the traditional notion of what a Transformer is. As Habro's focus moves further away from the manufacture of transforming toy robots and more to creating "expressions of the brand" the line between product and advertising blurs. Just putting the picture of a robot on a toy doesn't make it a robot, does it? And boy do they love putting pictures of robots on stuff. Toy robot marketing has gotten way out of control in this age of Power Rangers fishing poles and Transformers shaving cream where they'll put a robot on anything. Robots licensing has run amok and you can see it in the sad dead eyes of this kid who did a video review of the Transformers shaving set on YouTube. Much like the fake razor with which he shaves Optimus Prime's robot cream from his face, toy robots and their associated cross promotional merchandising have lost their edge.
EACH CHILDHOOD SOLD SEPARATELY-1985 NOT FOR USE WITH SOME GENERATIONS
Just pointing out how much it sucks to be a toy robot fan nowadays doesn't get us anywhere and it doesn't help the poor kids born into this dilemma. In addition to complaining what must also be done is a good amount of gloating about how much better I had it 25 years ago. Now I'm not saying the 1980s toy robot lines were devoid of their share of absurd cross promotional merchandising like underwear, big wheels, slot racing tracks and Halloween costumes that transformed children into miniature mascots of their parent's favorite toylines. But occasionally toy robots got it right and made it onto promotional items that struck a perfect balance between things that were not action figures but still did an incredible job of capturing the character and spirit of la vida roboto. So instead of feeling bad for the kids today and their Transformer themed fishing poles and personal hygiene equipment, I instead choose to retreat into the past and look at the greatest examples of toy robot cross promotion of all time. Actually this is what I do whenever I'm feeling bad about anything in general.
NEXT TIME ON ROBOPLASTIC COMPLAINALYPSE: THE FIVE GREATEST TOY ROBOT LICENSING TIE-INS OF ALL RECORDED HISTORY EVER IN THE UNIVERSE THAT I ALSO HAPPEN TO HAVE FOUND NEWSPAPER ADS FOR